Gareth L. Powell is a British Science Fiction writer based in the South West of England. ‘The Recollection’, which was published in late 2011, is his second published novel but his first with a major publisher. Does it suggest that he’s a writer to watch?
The novel has two main sub-plots which occupy alternate chapters throughout most of the book. The first concerns Ed Rico, a failed artist living in contemporary London. When his elder brother Verne, a war correspondent, rescues him from a beating by paying off his gambling debts, they go to the pub to catch up. The conversation goes downhill when Verne says that he suspects his wife, Alice, is having an affair. It quickly becomes apparent from Ed’s shiftiness just who she is having the affair with. Verne storms off to the nearest tube station but, as he’s riding the escalator down to the platform, a mysterious archway appears from nowhere in front of him. Before he can do anything, Verne disappears through it.
Over the following months, more archways pop up all over the Earth. It’s not clear where they’re from or what they’re for. However, both Ed and Alice feel so guilty about what they’ve done to Verne that the next time one appears nearby, they drive a car through it, hoping to be able to find Verne and gain his forgiveness. After a moment of blinding light, they find themselves on the other side of the arch on a barely habitable alien world. Finding it difficult to breathe the thin atmosphere, they head over to another arch they see in the distance and drive through that one, too. Again, they find themselves on a different planet, although this time they meet a stranger, an American soldier called Kristin. She explains to them that the arches are space-time portals which transport you from place to place at just less than the speed of light. So, if they take you to a planet ten light years away, the journey may feel instantaneous but ten years will have elapsed back on Earth while you were travelling there. Ed and Alice have to come to terms with the fact that if they return to Earth after going through just a few portals, it’s likely that everyone they knew at home will be very old or dead. There’s no going back now, so they keep moving through the arches, still hoping to catch up with Verne.
The second sub-plot is set four hundred years in the future and centres around Katherine (Kat) Abdulov, disinherited heir to her family’s space freight empire. Kat fell in love with one of the family’s main competitors, Victor Luciano, and when they went into business together she was cut adrift by her father. She and Victor have since had an acrimonious split and she has been left just about making ends meet as the captain of an old cargo vessel. When Victor decides to try and steal a major contract from under the Abdulov’s noses, Kat’s ship is the only one close enough to stop him. The family offer to bring her back into the fold if she can beat him to the planet of Djatt and secure the harvest for them. She agrees, as much to get back at Victor as to solve her current financial problems.
Before Kat embarks on this new mission, she first takes a couple of paying passengers from the dump of a planet she’s on to her home planet, Strauli, where she’s hoping to get the jump on Victor. Her passengers are headed for the Dho Ark, a converted planetoid in Strauli’s star system which is home to the mysterious aliens known as the Dho.
As Ed and Alice travel forwards through time in their search for Verne and as Kat tries to beat her ex-boyfriend to Djatt, it turns out that the Dho are aware of an ancient evil heading towards humanity’s small corner of the galaxy. The Dho have a plan to help humans beat this new foe but it will need Ed, Kat, Verne and Alice to make it succeed. Will they all make it and do they have what it takes?
I really enjoyed ‘The Recollection’. This is a dramatic space opera which manages to link contemporary characters to a convincing twenty-fifth century future. The lead characters are interesting people, particularly Kat, who has heaps of attitude but fundamentally still wants to do the right thing. The Dho are a well-conceived alien race, not just humans in funny masks, and the threat they want to warn humanity about is truly terrifying in its abilities.
My one criticism would be of Ed. Nominally the lead character, he is not an obvious hero. A self-indulgent slacker with very little self-control, Ed repeatedly screws up any situation he gets into. Although he redeems himself by the end of the book, he spends the first half being so passive that I repeatedly found myself wanting to scream at him, ‘Just pull your finger out!’ Thankfully, Kat provides a ready alternative lead character to get behind.
‘The Recollection’ is an original space opera with an intriguing premise and an entertaining set of human and alien characters. On the basis of this novel, Gareth L. Powell is clearly a writer to watch. I look forward to reading more of his work soon.
(pub: Solaris/Rebellion Publishing/HarperCollins. 307 page small enlarged paperback. Price: £ 7.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-907519-99-4)
check out website: www.solarisbooks.com